Frequently Asked Questions

New York City Criminal Defense FAQ

  1. Do I have to speak to the police after an arrest?
  2. I was offered a plea bargain. Should I take it?
  3. Do I need a lawyer if I intend to plead guilty?
  4. Should I hire an attorney for minor charges?
  5. When should I contact a criminal lawyer?
  6. I was coerced into confessing. What now?
  7. Who Is a Juvenile Delinquent?
  8. How Does the Family Court Case Begin?
  9. What Types of Hearings Are Held?
  10. What Happens at the Fact-finding Hearing?
  11. What Happens at the Dispositional Hearing?

Divorce and Family Law in the New York

If you are going through a divorce or are considering taking legal action against a family member, you likely have a number of questions about the process and your rights and options. Please read on for helpful information or contact our team at your earliest convenience to learn more about your legal options.

  1. Why do I need a divorce lawyer?
  2. What is a no-fault divorce?
  3. Will my ex-wife automatically win custody of our kids?
  4. What is an uncontested divorce?
  5. What should we do if we aren't sure we want to divorce?
  6. What can I do if I'm being denied visitation with my child?
  7. What are "ancillary issues" in a divorce?
  8. What is "equitable distribution"?
  9. What property is considered separate and not subject to equitable distribution?

Do I have to speak to the police after an arrest?

What many people do not realize is that you are not required to give any sort of statement to a law enforcement officer following your arrest. As explained in the Miranda warning that will be read to you at the time of your arrest, you have the right to remain silent and you have the right to an attorney. Both of these rights should be invoked as soon as possible, as anything that you say can be used against you by the prosecution during your criminal trial.

I was offered a plea bargain. Should I take it?

Depending on the circumstances of your case, it may or may not be in your best interest to accept a plea agreement; however, you should always consult an attorney before making this decision. In doing so, you can ensure that you fully understand your rights and options, as you may also have a good chance of winning your case at trial. Let an experienced lawyer review your case by contacting the Steward Law Firm today.

Do I need a lawyer if I intend to plead guilty?

Absolutely. Even if you intend to plead guilty to your charges, it is imperative that you speak with an attorney. In some cases, your lawyer may be able to negotiate a lesser charge or lighter sentence. If you attempt to represent yourself, you could end up facing much stiffer penalties. For this reason, you should not hesitate to invoke your right to legal counsel as soon as you have been arrested. You should also avoid admitting guilt until you have explored all of your legal options.

Should I hire an attorney for minor charges?

Unfortunately, a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that their charges are "minor." Even if you have been charged with a misdemeanor offense, the consequences of a conviction could follow you around for the rest of your life. For this reason, you should always take the time to learn more about your charges and the defense options that are available to you. Our firm has helped countless individuals to reduce the impact of a criminal conviction, and we stand ready to fight for you.

When should I contact a criminal lawyer?

As soon as you have been arrested and detained by a law enforcement officer, they are required by law to tell you that you have the right to remain silent and that you have the right to an attorney. Although both of these rights should be exercised immediately, you should waste no time in contacting a legal professional. In doing so, you may be able to gain a clearer understanding of what steps to take next and then start on devising a viable defense strategy. The sooner you take action in the interest of your defense, the better off you will be. What is also important to understand is that choosing the right attorney is just as crucial to the outcome of your case.

I was coerced into confessing. What now?

Unfortunately, it is not entirely uncommon for the police to use questionable interrogation tactics in order to obtain a confession—whether or not the confession is actually valid. Law enforcement may have believed that you were guilty of the crime that you were charged with, so they may have coerced you into providing a false admission of guilt. If you believe that this has happened to you, it is imperative that you consult with an attorney as soon as possible. You may still have time to remedy the situation and prove your innocence, but you must act quickly—as it may be much harder to prove this after you have been convicted by a jury or accepted a plea bargain.

Who Is a Juvenile Delinquent?

When a person who is under 16 years old, but is at least 7 years old, commits an act which would be a "crime" if he or she were an adult, and is then found to be in need of supervision, treatment or confinement, the person is called a "juvenile delinquent". The act committed is called a "delinquent act". All juvenile delinquency cases are heard in Family Court. Children who are 13, 14 and 15 years old who commit more serious or violent acts may be treated as adults. These cases may be heard in Supreme Court, but may sometimes be transferred to the Family Court. If found guilty, the child is called a "juvenile offender", and is subject to more serious penalties than a juvenile delinquent.

How Does the Family Court Case Begin?

A prosecuting attorney from the New York City Law Department, called an "Assistant Corporation Counsel", presents the juvenile delinquency case. An Assistant District Attorney presents cases involving juvenile offenders, and some juvenile delinquency cases involving certain serious crimes (called "designated felonies"). The presentment agency (prosecutor) prepares a petition against the child containing a description of the acts he or she is accused of committing. The accused child is called the "respondent".

The victim in the case is called the "complainant". A child who has been arrested and held may be brought directly to Family Court by the police, or, when court is not in session, may be held overnight in a detention center until the next court day. In the alternative, a child may be arrested and released after being given an "appearance ticket" directing him or her to appear in court on a certain date. In court, the child and his parent or guardian are given a copy of the petition.

What Types of Hearings Are Held?

In a juvenile delinquency case, the trial is called a "fact-finding hearing". A fact-finding hearing is the same as a criminal trial, but without a jury. The judge decides whether the child committed the acts described in the petition. If the court decides that the child must be held in detention ("remanded") while waiting for the fact-finding hearing, a "probable cause" hearing may be held to determine whether there is good cause to hold the child in detention.

There is no bail set in juvenile delinquency cases in Family Court. Other hearings which may be scheduled concern the evidence which the presentment agency may wish to use in the fact-finding hearing. The presentment agency must give certain police reports and other documents to the respondent's lawyer so that the respondent can prepare his or her defense.

What Happens at the Fact-finding Hearing?

At the fact-finding hearing, the presentment agency must prove its case through witnesses and other evidence. The respondent's attorney may cross-examine the witnesses and may present witnesses and evidence for the respondent. If the presentment agency proves the case beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge makes a "finding" that the respondent committed some or all of the acts described in the petition. If the case has not been proven, the judge will dismiss the petition.

If a finding is made, the judge will schedule a "dispositional hearing" and order the Probation Department to investigate the respondent's home and school behavior. The judge may order an evaluation by the city's Mental Health Services. The court may either "remand" the respondent to a detention facility or "parole" (release) the child to the custody of his or her parent or guardian until the dispositional hearing.

What Happens at the Dispositional Hearing?

At the dispositional hearing, the judge decides whether the respondent is a "juvenile delinquent" in need of supervision, treatment or confinement (placement). During the hearing, the judge hears testimony from the probation officer about the respondent's previous behavior in school and at home, and any previous court cases involving the respondent.

The respondent's parents or guardians and other persons with information helpful to the court may testify. The probation officer may recommend that the respondent be permitted to live at home without court supervision, but with certain conditions set by the court (a "conditional discharge"); or that he or she be supervised by the Probation Department while living at home (an "order of probation"); or that the court place the respondent in a facility away from home, such as a group home or secure facility.

The respondent may also be ordered to pay for damage to the complainant's property and/or unreimbursed medical expenses incurred by the complainant as a result of the respondents actions The judge decides which disposition would meet the needs of the respondent and signs a dispositional order. Even if there is a finding that the respondent committed the acts described in the petition, if the judge finds that the respondent is not in need of supervision, treatment or confinement, the petition must be dismissed. The petition may also be dismissed after the court has ordered an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal ("ACD"). An ACD is where the case is on hold for up to 6 months to decide whether it should be dismissed.

Why do I need a divorce lawyer?

Divorces can be complicated, and you need an attorney who can navigate the complexity of the New York family court system. While very few cases of uncontested divorce can be simple matters of paperwork, many divorces involve determining child custody, dividing assets and property, and in some cases, establishing orders of protection. In these cases, you would need an attorney who could address your individual needs and protect your rights.

Contact the Steward Law Firm today for more information!

What is a no-fault divorce?

A no-fault divorce is one which can be obtained by mutual consent on both sides and without divorce grounds, such as adultery, abandonment, or cruel and inhuman treatment. In a no-fault divorce, the divorce is granted due to an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage for at least 6 months.

This recent change in the law means that spouses are now able to divorce without having to prove that one spouse is responsible for the breakdown of the marriage. This allows for more amicable divorces and a much smoother and easier legal process on both parties and their children. Even in a no-fault divorce, however, issues such as child custody, child support, and division of marital property must be resolved.

Will my ex-wife automatically win custody of our kids?

The family court is most concerned with the best interests of the children, so when deciding which parent should be the children's primary custodian, they will consider a number of factors rather than simply awarding custody to the mother.

The judge will consider such factors as the physical and mental health of the children, their emotional and physical needs, each parent's financial situation, the child's wishes, and the parents' willingness to work together and encourage their children to have a relationship with both parents. The Steward Law Firm can provide you with powerful advocacy during your custody hearings and ensure your voice is heard.

What is an uncontested divorce?

An uncontested divorce is one in which both parties are in agreement about the divorce and any of its related issues, such as those involving children, marital property, and finances. In a case where the parties agree, the divorce papers are submitted to the court for approval.

What should we do if we aren't sure we want to divorce?

If you and your spouse are having troubles in your marriage but are not comfortable with ending your union, legal separation may be a helpful solution. By separating rather than divorcing, you and your spouse can have time apart to think through your issues and determine whether you truly want to divorce, while still maintaining your marital status and the benefits of being married.

An attorney can represent your interests when creating a separation agreement to address such matters as the custody of your children and the division of assets, and if you do decide to divorce, the agreement can easily be carried over. There are certain legal implications to separation, however, so it is important to first discuss your situation with an experienced family lawyer.

What can I do if I'm being denied visitation with my child?

As the noncustodial parent, the court ordered that you receive a certain amount of time with your child, and if your former partner is keeping the child from you, you can enforce your legal right to visitation. Our firm can assist you in filing a petition for modification with the court that requests that the terms of your visitation order be modified or enforced so that you receive adequate time with your child. If your relationship with your child is at risk, do not hesitate to contact our firm to learn how you can enforce the court's orders.

What are "ancillary issues" in a divorce?

These are the issues that must be resolved before a divorce can be finalized. Where children are involved, these issues include child support, child custody, and child visitation. Another ancillary issue is that of dividing and distributing marital property and assets. Other ancillary issues involve spousal support, legal fees, and the matter of a name change.

What is "equitable distribution"?

Equitable distribution is the law which governs how marital debts and property will be divided when a marriage is ended. Courts must make as fair and equitable a division as possible and will consider 13 factors in determining this issue.

Equitable does not necessarily mean equal. Diving marital property can be quite complicated which is why the courts must examine all the pertinent facts. Marital property consists of all the assets and property that is accumulated by the couple during the marriage; separate property is not divided.

What property is considered separate and not subject to equitable distribution?

Any property that is acquired by one of the spouses as a gift or through an inheritance designated to them only, property acquired by either party prior to the marriage, property that is excluded by agreement between the two parties, and property acquired after a legal separation decree.